Exploring socioeconomic inequalities and access to elite postgraduate education among English graduates

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A worldwide trend towards high levels of participation in higher education, paired with concerns about the post-university destinations of an increasing pool of graduates, have brought about two parallel phenomena: a process of sharp stratification in higher education; and the growing relevance of postgraduate education as undergraduate study becomes nearly ubiquitous, particularly among the most advantaged groups of students. To date, the literature on socioeconomic inequalities and access to higher education has focussed on undergraduate education, with some researchers specifically investigating access to the most prestigious institutions. We contribute to this body of research by investigating the effects of socioeconomic characteristics on access to postgraduate education at those universities believed to deliver elite forms of higher education. We look at access to ‘elite’ postgraduate education among English graduates, operationalised as belonging to the Russell Group of research-intensive universities. We analyse an exceptionally large dataset (N=533,885) capturing graduate destinations, including postgraduate education at specific institutions. We find that socioeconomic inequalities in attending an elite postgraduate degree persist, but these are mediated by educational variables. Socioeconomically advantaged students are more likely to attain a good degree and to attend an elite institution at the undergraduate level, which powerfully predicts access to elite postgraduate education.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)673–694
Number of pages22
JournalHigher Education
Early online date9 Apr 2021
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2022

Bibliographical note

© Crown 2021.


  • Postgraduate education
  • institutional stratification
  • Higher Education
  • social inequalities

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